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Summer Memories on Mackinac Island

I made our reservation for Mackinac Island early this spring–when summer was still months away and the island was still hibernating in its half-frozen state–much needed rest from the magic it spins in the summer. I think it was Tim Allen that did it–his calm voice hypnotizing me through a Pure Michigan commercial that sparked such vivid Mackinac Island memories, I opened my computer right then and there to book a stay. I am the Pure Michigan advertising campaign’s dream consumer, a repeat customer who’s developed such a strong Pavlovian response to the first three notes in the Pure Michigan commercial songs, I’m half inclined to jump in my car and start driving the minute I hear it. Not in February though. You can have your February, Michigan.

Of All the Places to Love Mackinac Island is one of my favorites, a treasure we’ve returned to now for three years. We leave our cars at the ferry dock and bring nothing but an appetite for summer fun and a small suitcase full of sailor suits for the kids. And when we get there, we just run free because the grassy knolls are a plenty.
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We arrive on an early ferry and take a late ferry out the next day which gives us two full days to experience as much of the island as we can take in. There’s something for everyone from a bustling Main Street full of pubs and shops to quiet corners with picturesque views and rich history. “Tell us a ghost story!” we ask all the locals–true tourists we are. I love the houses on the island–all bright and cheerful with flowers in the window boxes and rocking chairs on the front porch. So many summer stories written and told here.

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When in Rome, you eat gelato. When in Mackinac, we pull out the Jon Jon rompers.

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I’ll add all our favorite Mackinac travel details and links at the bottom of the post for anyone interested.

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The lawn in front of Fort Mackinac–great for cartwheels, Frisbee, dancing, playing tag, people watching. My kids made friends with so many dogs there too.

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We took a carriage ride around the island this year and ended up at the Grand Hotel for high tea. Dash was so mesmerized by the horses, he sat quietly for the entire hour. We decided we need a horse–one that can fit in our house and travel in the car on all trips with us.

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We loved listening to our carriage driver’s stories of the island’s horses. She knows all their names and talks about them like they are people when they pass by. “Oh that’s Larry and Frank. They hate each other. And that’s Sue. She’s only been on the job for a week. She’s a little timid. And there’s Jesse. He was pulling carriages, but they moved him to taxi duty. And Andy! Everybody loves Andy.” Lainey was all over the horse stories. Turns out a lot of workers on the island are horse lovers, and we like that.

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The Grand Hotel is where Theodore Roosevelt had his fifth birthday party and also it can be seen from space. I made those up, but the moral of the story is it’s full of history (Mark Twain lectured there, Kennedy and Truman visited there, Esther Williams was filmed in a movie there–all true) and it’s HUGE (longest front porch in the entire world–promise, also true). It feels very fancy, and I felt a little bit like Jack stealing a fancy suit to hang with Rose for a first class night on the Titanic–which, by the way, feels awesome. So we came for tea, and I just prayed that my kids wouldn’t break a tea pot or fling too many sugar cubes. We started on the porch–the longest in the world, might I remind you–and it was not Dash but Nella who initiated the tomfoolery when she grabbed a bishop from the giant chess set and booked it down the porch while I chased her and people laughed, “You’ll be running for a long time!”

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I caught up.

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The tea was lovely, and the staff was kind and smiley and didn’t mind at all sopping up a few tea puddles that failed to land in the cup.

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High tea at the Grand Hotel? Do it, do it. A fun experience indeed.

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Go upstairs to the bar before you leave to check out the views–then go down to the first floor for the tea shop and Sadie’s Ice Cream Parlor.

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Hit the phone booth on the way out to let your kids fight over who gets to open and shut the door.

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When the fighting gets too bad and it’s making a scene, point to the street and yell “HORSE!” There’s a good chance there will actually be one, and horse trance will fix everything.

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Horse trance, horse trance, horse trance. Mackinac makes parenting so EASY.

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Watching horses from the window…

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Mission Point is another good place for frolicking in the grass. We like to frolic. And we like to say frolic.

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Kite watching near the public library…

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A view through the back doors of the library where–oh, I don’t know–a deck with Adirondack chairs overlooking the lake and a lighthouse invite you to sit and read in peace. Enough already, Mackinac Island. Enough.

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For the kids? Fudge. Lots of it. Fudge at Ryba’s, fudge at Joann’s, fudge at Murdicks, fudge at every other shop corner, fudge made right in front of you by nice people who smile and make faces for your kids through the windows.

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And putt-putt. And we’re not talking the ball-through-old-windmill and manmade waterfall course. This is the heavens-parted-and-angels-sang-through-the-clouds course. The view. Not to mention the darling tavern on the green where you can sip a drink and watch your kids. I mean, play with them.

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We found some great quiet break activities for the kids in between walking and sight-seeing, one being the kid’s art studio downstairs at the Richard & Jane Manoogian Art Museum.

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(I don’t usually like dark beer but fell in love with a smooth brew called Widowmaker from the Upper Peninsula. It’s on tap at the Pink Pony.)

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We find a little more magic every time we visit the island and can’t wait to make more Mackinac memories, hopefully with the entire family next year. I must have said “Brett would love this place” 100 times.

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Our Mackinac Island Favorites:

The Island House Hotel
The Grand Hotel
Coffee at JL Beanery (hidden behind Bay View Bed & Breakfast–best view of the harbor)
Richard & Jane Manoogian Art Museum (kid’s art studio downstairs and a brand new playground behind the museum)
Greens of Mackinac at Mission Point–play putt-putt, order a drink at the tavern
Professor Harry’s Old Time Photos (kids aced it this year)
Pink Pony (order a burger and try a Widowmaker)
Mary’s Bistro Draught House (pork tacos, sit outside on the back deck)
Fudge–Ryba’s, Murdicks, Joann’s
Public Library (and kites on the lawn next door)
Shops: Visit Caddywampus and Poppins–so many cute little gifts

For past Mackinac Island posts, see Mackinac 2014 and Mackinac 2013.


Leave a Comment
  1. I am so jealous! This looks like a fantastic vacation! I grew up going to Michigan for summer vacations and haven’t been to Mackinac Island since I was a little girl. My husband is from Michigan so we still love taking trips there. Now we live in Arizona so our vacations are a bit different but these pictures are making me want to go back. :) Hopefully someday!

  2. Alright Kelle, I’m getting mixed messages about you and dark beer, but I’m going to go ahead and consider you a convert, and then recommend you join me in Asheville for a pint of chocolate peanut butter cup porter. For Real.

  3. Oh my. I’d like to book my Michigan trip right now. You gave me 15 minutes of Pure Michigan happiness here in Ca for my afternoon break. Just lovely…and please don’t ever stop dressing them like mini-Kennedy’s…well, until they demand you stop of course, but I love that you do!

  4. Betsey ivins says:

    i want to go there!!!!

  5. I hope you get commission from this post because I am ready to book my trip! This has been on my list for years.

    On a sort of related note, we just got home from a week on Cape San Blas in Florida yesterday, one of my favorite places to love. I tried to convince my husband that we needed to take the Georgia route home so I could go to Cabbage Patch Babyland even though it was almost a two hour addition to an already long drive. He wasn’t buying it. After three hours of traffic and detours around Birmingham Alabama he turned to me and said, “This is my penance for not taking you to Babyland.” Damn straight.

    You can take one guess which route we’ll be taking to CSB next time!

  6. Gorgeous post! Such an incredibly beautiful place. This post should cement your seat on the Mackinac/Michigan Chamber of Commerce.

  7. Looks like a great visit! I’ve heard great things about Mackinac Island — I think it needs to be added to our “must visit” list!

  8. I first went to the Island in 1965 Spent many Summers Working there.Worked the Docks, was a Dock Porter, Bell hop at the Grand, Drove Carriage Tours when they were Real used to go to Fort Holmes in the Same Carriage, I know the Native Indians there! And Lived in Rich Peoples Homes on the West Bluff. Did all kinds of Work there including Construction and Repairing Those Mansions on the Bluffs…. It truly is a Great place , Lots of Small Town Politics going on…. Yes I know the “Rock” Luv Your Posts Keep em Coming. From Your Perspective!

  9. These photos are magical.

  10. Looooove Mackinac Island, this was year 2 for us and we have fallen head over heels for the place…did the Tea last year and was amazing and so glad we did it! Last year my mother in law started selling her handmade girls dresses to a shop on the island…so naturally we had to go back just to see them hanging in the shop!! will be an annual trip for us!

  11. Oh my goodness ! This place looks wonderful – you take the best photos ever ! Capturing wonderful moments :)

  12. I have been loving reading about all of your Michigan adventures. I have lived in Michigan all of my life and love it here. I don’t know what Ferry Line you took but the Arnold Line is reporting that a dolly lost her owner. I thought I would post here just in case any of your littles are looking for her. https://www.facebook.com/arnoldtransitco/photos/a.565507693511327.1073741828.110140315714736/932433703485389/?type=1&theater
    I hope the rest of your stay in our beautiful state is filled with more adventures and fun.

  13. Gorgeous pictures! What’s not to love about Mackinac Island? There’s something surprisingly magical about the mingling scents of horse and fudge and you just can’t get it anywhere else.

    As for Widowmaker – delicious, and their brewery is worth visiting if you find yourself on your way through the UP. You can bring your own food, there is soda (that they make as well) for the kids, and they have a deck that looks out over the Portage Canal – a really gorgeous view in another gorgeous part of Michigan.

  14. Katherine says:

    Love the pic of you with your children on the harbour wall – mothering in all its wonderful, demanding forms – hug for baby boy, acknowledgement for 8yo who still needs to be connected to her mama, secure upper arm grip so little wild one doesn’t fall!!! Doing it all!!!!

  15. I LOVE your red sandles – in one of the pictures toward the end (third from bottom). What brand are they?? (love this post, too – looks like such a fun trip!)

    • I have the same pair, mine are called Saltwaters. They are very comfortable and needed no breaking in.

  16. Ah, Kelle, thank you for the lovely dose of Mackinac Island! I’ve only been there one time, but once is enough to fall in love with a place. Your photos capture all that is magical about the island. ~sigh~ You’ve reminded me that I ‘need’ to go back and, next time, high tea will be on the itinerary!

  17. Janet Wentz says:

    I have a life long dream of going to the Grand Hotel. My all time favorite movie was based there, 1981 “Somewhere in Time”. It starred Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour. They do a “Somewhere in Time” weekend once a year. One more piece of trivia about the hotel. It has been such a treat to see other things on the island. Should by bucket list dream come true….there will be much more then just seeing the hotel and the grounds.

    • I live nearby, so it’s a bazillion times every summer annual trip(s), and basically every store on that island sells Somewhere in Time memorabilia. It’s second only to fudge :)

  18. Samantha Stopoulos says:

    You HAVE to see “Somewhere in Time.” Sightly corny but beautiful movie and music filmed at the Grand Hotel.

  19. I so wish my parents had parented like you do. But it was the 60’s and they were busy with civil rights and hippies and wars and poverty and. . . well. . . you get the idea. Thank you for making so many memories with your kiddos, and thanks for sharing the magic with all of us. You are a wonderful mom, Kelle, you truly are.

  20. Beautiful photos, it looks like a lovely time….. even to an Ohiaan 😉

    Did you meet any ghosts or get any good ghost stories?

    • We didn’t meet any but we did hear about a ghost soldier that’s been seen by carriage drivers, sitting alone in their carriages!

  21. We were on Mackinac Island one week prior to your visit…such a magical place! (By the way, we decided that Murdick’s is the best fudge on the island!)

  22. This looks absolutely, positively delightful! I know my mom, aunt and grandparents used to summer at Mackinac (doesn’t that sound fancy?), but I’ve never seen photos and heard few stories. You’ve inspired me to ask about their stays, and also to look into making a trek myself!

  23. Being from Michigan but a current East Coast transplant, Mackinaw Island is absolutely one of my top 5 favorite places. I absolutely LOVED reading this post, as I’ve enjoyed many of these places with my own children! And am regretting not making it out to Michigan this summer. Have you visited the Butterfly Garden? That’s another one of our Mackinaw must-dos, as is renting bikes and biking the island (you can get a trailer for the little ones). Also, consider staying at the Grand Hotel–you can get a deal on weekday rates and it includes a fancy 3-course dinner (there’s also a kids club if you don’t think any of yours can make it through dinner, but my kids have always surprised me)–really an experience of a lifetime!

  24. The horses really are residents here on the Island, with their own distinct personalities. I’m happy to see that you have enjoyed Mackinac Island so much that you decided to make a trip here for three consecutive years. It’s my hope that you make it a family trip every year!

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